Positioning Trees in Your Garden

Ilona Erwin

Where should I plant a new tree?

This can be a difficult decision to make, and why it is a great help to have some form of plan. Trees are one of the most important elements of your landscape. They have a long time frame of growth, as well as an impact on both space and surroundings: growing to large size and shading the ground.The garden owner will want to take some thought situating their new trees.

2010 rainbow

a sideyard of trees

Consider these conditions:

  • how large is your garden and how sunny do you wish it to be
  • what are the soil conditions and which climate zone are you located within
  • are there power lines overhead?

Four tree characteristics to keep in mind:

  1. The ultimate size
  2. The nature of the root structure, deep tap root or strong surface rooting
  3. The climate hardiness
  4. The pH needs of the tree

Click here: What is pH?

Soils are said to be “sweet” if they are alkaline and “sour” if they are acid. A scale of “values” from pH 7.0 a neutral soil to above pH 7.0 which is alkaline, to below pH 7.0 which is an acid soil. Soils can be anywhere within the range of acidic pH 4 to alkaline at pH 7.5 to 8.

The importance of pH to plant growth concerns the availability of plant foods and the spread of soil borne diseases. Some plants will not grow in certain pH environments.

Mistakes I made

It seems inevitable that we make mistakes as we build our gardens, but learning from others mistakes is the easiest, most painless way to learn how to improve. One of the hardest things to do is cut down a tree that was simply a mistake in positioning. Moving trees are a bigger undertaking than most of us wish to try.

Here are things I’ve grown to rue, in time:
Planting a tree clearly borderline in climate hardiness.I live in zone 5, but there are times that the temperatures will dip lower than the low temperatures of -10 degrees to -20 degrees. This is further complicated by the amount of snow cover, or lack, and the effect of desiccating winds. I decided to take a chance on Chinese Chestnut trees. The year that wiped out my roses, also took the Chinese Chestnuts. Several years were wasted growing trees that would never survive in my garden’s conditions.

Further, there is a difference between whether a plant thrives or simply survives in your garden.

Of course, the garden story is always one of exceptions and surprises, but when planting something which demands an investment of time I don’t like to experience surprises to the downside…. and that is my advice:
Don’t plant trees that are not hardy for your area.

Remember the spacing of mature heights and widths- especially widths!

I have planted trees too close together, and I am worse about that now than earlier in my gardening career. To practice a little self restraint in spacing those skinny little trees, according to the expected mature sizes, is wise and better for the trees.

Planting zones

What is a planting zone?

A planting zone and a hardiness zone are synonymous. It is a result of recording the temperatures of a location and averaging them to find the range of lowest to highest temperatures. Hardiness is measured by whether a plant survives in those temperatures. Zone maps are available to locate which one applies to your own garden.

Generally, large trees should not be situated too close to buildings. They might drop heavy branches or even fall over on the building in storms, roots from trees can be damaging to drain systems and foundations, as well as sidewalks and driveways. Evergreen trees could block windows, reducing light and ventilation.

What should I do if my tree is already to close to my house?
That is really up to you, but keeping the tree in good health and obtaining the services of a an arborist to keep the branches open and properly pruned is a good idea. It will help to prevent a tree from breaking due to disease and weakness.

If a tree produces a litter that would be a nuisance in a certain situation , it bears some consideration. Many people complain of Sweet Gum trees dropping their seed balls onto paths and sidewalk, etc. and some don’t like large leaves or bark litter in these same areas. Sycamore trees shed bark and have seed balls, so with trees of that kind it is better to place them away from those areas.

Some trees have greedy seeking surface roots: Norway Maples, Weeping Willows, Liquidambar styraciflua are three such examples. They might make an eye-catching specimen tree in the further reaches of the yard, but not where the drainlines and sidewalks go.

Click here for definition of specimen tree

A tree placed so people can gain the greatest enjoyment for the color, texture, scent, or other pleasures it provides. – www.arborday.org/trees/glossary.cfm

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.